Last week I mentioned the kitchen exhaust fan project. In our previous apartment, we had a working, old-school, built-in exhaust fan in the kitchen. While probably not quite as effective as a true hood, it was situated right by the [gas] range/oven, and was certainly better than nothing when it came to improving air quality.
While I highly prefer gas ranges to electric, they do have some downsides when it comes to indoor air quality (good paper here). This might not be a big deal for people who rarely set foot in the kitchen, but we cook and bake A LOT. After two-plus years of living here with no exhaust fan in the kitchen, we decided we really needed to do something.
The kitchen in our current building HAD a built-in exhaust fan, but it was painted shut when we moved in, and not situated all that well with respect to the stove. We toyed around with the idea of opening it to see if it worked, but never got around to it.
Back in November, after some particularly fume-y baking sessions, we broached the subject of adding an externally vented exhaust fan with our landlord, J. He preferred an internal vent hood (which filters the air before recirculating it, but doesn’t remove it), but agreed to look into external venting. We offered to share part of the cost of the project of getting it vented externally, but he never took us up on that.
In the end, we settled on an over-the-range microwave (J wanted to put in a microwave; we had previously been using our own) with an exhaust fan that could either be internally or externally vented, with plans to hook up the external venting.
Step 1: More power for the kitchen. For the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve lived with everything in our kitchen (other than the lights) being on one circuit: refrigerator, dishwasher, and all the outlets (that power microwave, toaster oven, and toaster). The result of this arrangement was that we couldn’t use two high-power draw appliances simultaneously, or we’d trip the breaker. For example, if the dishwasher was running, we couldn’t use the microwave. Or if I was heating something in the microwave, I couldn’t toast a piece of bread.
If we’d discovered this before we moved in, we would have made our tenancy conditional on it being fixed, but no. We didn’t discover it until we moved in, and, at that point, J didn’t seem terribly interested in upgrading things. I didn’t feel like pushing the issue because within two weeks of our move-in, the refrigerator died. After J replaced that, I wanted to lay low for awhile, so as not to be that tenant.
While somewhat annoying, we’d adapted to the kitchen power situation fairly quickly, with a strict “one appliance at a time” policy. Given J’s earlier response, I was rather surprised when, at the beginning of this project, he brought up that the first step would be getting more power to the kitchen. I don’t know that the exhaust fan draws all that much power, and thereby wasn’t sure why we suddenly needed to change things now, but I wasn’t going to argue. Most of the work happened when we were out of town at Christmas, with a bit of additional work later.
Step 2: Acquire and install the microwave. The model J selected was back ordered, but the delay gave him time to do the wiring. The microwave arrived in mid-January. J bumped up the over-the-range cabinets to make room for the microwave underneath. The space the microwave now occupies used to be bare, light-colored wall, so this darkens things up a bit, but that’s a trade-off we can live with.
Step 3: Duct work for external venting. This required that we lose a little bit of actual cabinet storage space, as well as the above-cabinet space that we’d been using to store some larger kitchen items. Storage space in the kitchen is a premium, but this was worth the trade.
J removed the old exhaust fan and used that space as the outlet for the duct work for the new fan. As you can see, the project isn’t quite finished, but we have a functional externally vented, over-the-range hood, which is huge!
Having power to actually run multiple kitchen appliances at the same time is also huge. It took me a couple of weeks to adjust to the idea that I could, in fact, toast toast a piece of bread and heat something in the microwave at the same time. After a month to adjust, it sometimes feels a little odd, like I’m doing something forbidden when I use the microwave while the dishwasher is running.
We haven’t really put the exhaust fan to the test yet. Of course, many of the pollutants it will remove are of the colorless, odorless variety, but there should be some improvements we notice. I don’t know if it was real, or just in my head, but there have definitely been some times when I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen with the oven on and seemed to notice some effects on my lungs and breathing. Now that it’s done, I only wish we’d done it sooner!
Oh my – I can totally relate to this post, except that I have no landlord to pawn this stuff off on. My kitchen has the same wiring issues (hasn’t been updated since the house was built in the 1950’s) so it’s basically a one appliance at a time kitchen. The one that gave me the most problems was the microwave & toaster oven, which I “solved” by moving the toaster oven out into the dining room/living room. Not the most elegant solution, but it’s better than tripping the breaker all the time.
I also have no vent hood or really any ventilation at all in the kitchen. It is an electric range though, which makes it less of an air quality issue except, of course, when you try to use the broiler or accidentally spill something on one of the burners – at which point the only option is to open the windows and fan like crazy! I’ve toyed with adding one of those over the stove microwaves, but I believe that it requires a cabinet to hang from, and there are no cabinets over the stove… so now we’re starting to talk full kitchen renovation – and to be honest, the bathroom is probably ahead of the kitchen in terms of the “desperate need of attention” factor.
Anyhow, congratulations on your upgrade – I’m very happy for you and just a wee bit jealous! 🙂
You probably haven’t had time to fully try it out yet, but are you happy with the microwave unit in general? Any specific things you’d look for or avoid when choosing one?
Now that I’ve been talking about it, it seems kitchen wiring issues are not uncommon. I was wondering if we would have gotten to this sooner if it was our own place, or if it would have taken even longer.
Microwave unit seems fine, but I don’t have particularly high standards in that area, other than being annoyed if the beeps are too loud (not really an issue now, but throwback to “waking the baby paranoia”). This seems to heat food well 🙂 The vent fan, on the other hand, is quite loud. It has four speeds: Boost (i.e., Super Loud), High, Medium, and Low. All speeds other than “Low” are rather obnoxious, but “Low” is probably not all that effective at sucking out air. We rather expected the noise though. If it were our own house, I think we’d save for a more expensive hood (not a microwave combo) with really quiet operation.
Interesting… thanks for your thoughts. I also wonder about “cold air return” on a vent fan like that. I mean, my house is really well sealed against drafts – so much so that when I had an energy audit done they said it was right on the verge of needing a fresh air vent to pull in air from the outside for the sake of air quality! Seriously, they wanted to put a hole in the wall to let in fresh air! Anyhow, if the vent fan really pumps air out of the house, then new air has to come in from somewhere. In the summertime I have an attic fan that vents the whole house, and if I turn it on without opening several windows it will suck the pilot light on the hot water heater right out. Hmmmm… perhaps more thinking is in order.
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